Being an Arabic American in 2017

I am as American and basic white girl as the next, but because I had caterpillars for eyebrows and answered my mother’s incessant calls in a strange mixture of Arabic and English while growing up, people judged me. I grew up with Syrian parents in a very conservative white town for most of my gawky awkward years, which really didn’t help. I ate hummus and pita sandwiches while everyone else was digging into their PBJs, weirded out by my strange wrap. Middle school was probably the worst of it, because come on, we all hit the bane of physical existence during that time. I was subject to, “Were you even born here?” and, “Are your parents legal?” YES, I was born here, and YES, my parents are legal. I can honestly reflect and say I grew up slightly feeling like an outsider in my home country but I’ll get to that a little later.

As I aged, I moved to a more diverse school where I felt very accepted. Coming to college, I had the marvelous realization that being ethnic was…. cool. People were interested in where my parents were from, I got asked to speak Arabic and my “foreign” look was envied. People wanted gold Arabic name necklaces just like mine, something I had always tucked away under my shirt.

I could really tell how progressively we’ve moved in the past eight years and felt a sort of patriotism, one may say. Now I know it would be unfair of me to blame this all on the Bush to Obama transition, because I truly believe that the mindset of our country has expanded outside of just political leaders. Bullying based on diversity has become intolerable and the uncultured ignorant comments I faced growing up had ceased. The country has had a deep understanding of equality and liberal became the new normal. We had become tolerant of all religions, the LGBTQ community and all different ethnicities. Although there were still hate crimes and racism, the people of this country have made a conscious effort to recognize and change that. Equality and freedom became important again.

So, why are we moving backwards?

I’m sure you’ve read countless headlines and articles about how Trump is destroying the progressive America. Do I personally agree with that statement? I couldn’t tell you. I’m not nearly educated enough to provide a true and supported argument when it comes to politics and his presidential policies. Although he may have not been my top choice of a president, I have tried to remain as unbiased as possible when it came to his election, and to instead, try to see the good that could come from this outcome.

Right now I am 19 years old, but I haven’t seen my grandparents since I was 12 due to the conflict in Syria. My mother has pleaded with them for the last 5 years to get them to apply for a visa and come visit her in the States. This was not an easy process. Both of my parents have 13 siblings, most of which still live in Syria. A hefty amount of debate and investment has gone into choosing my mother’s parents as the two people to send to America because it is a very difficult process in the midst of the war. After being granted a Greencard, a government issued access to the United States of America in a completely legal manner, Trump’s ban registered their trip here impossible. Our entire summer was planned around making up for lost time with my grandparents and allowing them to breathe outside of the oppression but now they can’t even come. The time and effort, countless phone calls between my parents and family members, the dangerous trips within the country to make the interview to be allowed to come, all of the plans and excitement and relief they were coming—all diminished, dissipated and dissolved.

How did I react to this news? I tuned into news channels and read articles about the ‘indefinite’ ban on Syrian people, trying to find reason and logic in Trump’s decision, without letting the heartbreak of my grandparent’s cancelled trip affect my opinion. I watched an interview with White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, which really stuck out to me. “Coming to America isn’t a right,” he said, “it’s a privilege.” That’s when I realized, there is no way I could support Trump’s decision, or even understand it. I had tried to look at him in a positive light. I had tried to look at him and his team as an inclusive group of people, but I couldn’t. In my eyes, America was supposed to be a land of freedom, a land of refuge to oppression, a land where you could practice whatever religion you wanted, a land to build yourself up from nothing. We had become, in my eyes, a diverse and accepting country where I felt just as welcome as anyone else. How could entering this country become a “privilege”? A privilege to who? Freedom is a right. Because America is a country that prides itself on freedom, it would be completely hypocritical to not allow other human beings, human beings whose mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers have been killed in war, to find solace here. Saying anything along the lines of privilege puts an unnecessary wedge between people like Sean Spicer and people like my grandparents. It completely denounces the idea of human equality and the freedom of having options. Coming into this country and fulfilling the American dream isn’t a privilege, or at least it didn’t used to be when our founding fathers created this nation, or when the Puritans left the oppressive British government and made a life for themselves here. No country can pride itself on being “the land of the free” when it has become something comparable to an exclusive club with a closed-minded president as our bouncer.

Now back to what I said before about being an outsider. After Trump was elected, I was told by family to stay quiet for the next 4 years and not call attention to myself. I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds like a terrible way to live. Is being in fear of my own government and forced to stay quiet about my ethnicity and beliefs making America great again? Intolerance is not greatness.

We see coverage of the groups chanting at airports angry by the decision, interviews with those who have been banned and the thoughts of politicians all over the country, but it is not often we see current events in the eyes of someone just like us. I am just as American as you, with a family that acts just a quirky and “white” as yours, but now I feel like an outsider again. My grandparents can’t come visit, my younger sister is starting to face the same bullying that I did so long ago and I am asked to stay quiet in the midst of it all. Doing something about it doesn’t even feel like a possibility anymore. Arab Americans like me who face the same difficulties just have to sit and watch this happen.

We are banning people, it being “unsaid” by President Donald Trump. While he insists that this is “not a Muslim ban,” there are countless records of his campaign where he has said as president, he would stop Muslims from entering the country. On December 7, 2015, he publically supported the idea of a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” later furthering his rationale on Muslims on June 13, where he claimed, “they’re trying to take over our children and convince them how wonderful ISIS is and how wonderful Islam is.” Yet quoting the president has proven to not have much of an effect on the public, because he can also get away with saying he would grab a woman “by the pu**y.”

Ultimately, it is sad that a country that was once moving in a tolerant direction has now taken the path of islamophobia due to its corrupt leadership. Being told my family is not welcome makes me feel unwelcome, and there are millions of Arabic Americans like me who I am sure feel the same way. As much as I don’t want to, I will continue to try and see the light in the decision making of our government, even though I feel as though it’s turning against me. The undeniable feeling of being unwelcome, un-American and different is something I will just have to accept for the next four years, and I find slight comfort in this by writing it out.